Nothing professes two individuals’ committed love to each other more than a wedding ring, the age-old symbol of eternity, the unbroken circle. However, since the 18th century, this global icon for the promised eternal love and fidelity between two persons has actually evolved into two separate rings.

Most couples today splurge on a diamond-studded engagement ring and follow up with his-and-hers wedding bands.

And where love is involved, money is no object – within reason, of course. Still, each year couples spend in excess of $11 trillion worldwide expressing their undying love for each other. That’s a lot of love and commitment.

So how does one choose an engagement ring? It’s a little complicated. For starters, the old cliché, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” could not be more apropos. Everyone has his or her own concept of the perfect ring. But experts recommend shoppers start by familiarizing themselves with the four C’s: carat, cut, clarity and color.

A carat is a gemstone measurement of weight equaling 200 milligrams. Each carat is divided into 100 points so that one-half carat equals 50 points or 0.50 carats. Since the size of a diamond’s top facet depends upon the overall shape and quality of cut, there is no fixed size for a specific carat diamond.

What is considered an excellent cut is one not so thick that light incorrectly reflects out the sides and not too shallow that it escapes out the bottom, but ideally proportioned so that each facet is perfectly angled to refract light out the top, creating a full-spectrum, fiery, brilliant diamond. However, a diamond’s shape, anything other than round, also affects its brilliance.

Clarity is one characteristic requiring a closer examination than possible with the unaided eye. Any flaws visible under a bright light with the naked eye would automatically lower the quality rating to either SI (slightly included) or I (included). The top Gemological Institute of America ratings for clarity in succession, F (flawless), IF (internally flawless), VVS (very, very slightly included), and VS (very slightly included) have no flaws visible without a loupe. Even with the F rating, gemologists are quick to state there are no perfect natural diamonds.

Many experts claim color is a diamond’s most important feature, with more being less in the case of white diamonds. The industry uses a color chart ranging from D to Z. Colorless diamonds in the D-F range are very rare and extremely valuable, while the majority of mined diamonds fall in the N-Z categories with increasing amounts of yellow. Diamonds of any other color are rare and considered fancy colored diamonds subjected to a different grading system entirely.

After selecting the perfect stone, it’s time to select the perfect setting.

“White metals, 18-karat and platinum are still the most popular with solitaires and halo rings continuing as a major trend in 2011,” says Michele Holdgrafer, store director at Bruce G. Weber Precious Jewels.

“We carry top bridal designers, such as Harry Kotlar, Kwiat, Cento by Roberto Coin, Elara, Precision Set, Scott Kay and Penny Preville.”

When it comes to purchasing the perfect engagement ring, remember that it’s meant to be worn for a lifetime. Take your time and choose the ring that best suits her.

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